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  • Criticism of the Panther

    It seems like the Panther gets criticised a lot and called a bad tank, but how much of the criticism is actually valid to the design, and not something directly caused by the declining war-situation?

    Here's the typical things I've seen repeated again and again on forums:

    - Awful reliability and mechanical stamina: According to the French postwar report the engine and transmission lifespan was within acceptable limits for a medium tank. We know that some Panther fell short of this though, (especially the engine life) but that was surely due to bad materials, not poor design.

    - The final drives, with an average life of 150 km: this was a direct cause by problems with the industry for Germany at the time. It seems like this wasn't really openly discussed before the production of the Panther began, so it wasn't exactly a sober choice.

    - No periscope for the gunner: A somewhat valid criticism of the design of tank, but then again the Germans never (AFAIK) felt it was necessary for the gunner to have any other vision device besides his gunsight. For example, they added a forward-viewing periscope for the loader in the Tiger I, and Tiger II crews complained that the loader's periscope should be made turnable, but no one seemed to have thought it was necessary for the gunner to have a periscope. More vision devices is always better but it clearly wasn't necessary for a good combat performance.

    - Bad HE: in Zaloga's book on the Panther he writes that it had an outstanding AP round, while the HE was mediocre- not bad.

    Also, a comparison:
    • 7,5 cm Sprenggranate 42 (Panther) explosive filler: 690 grams of amatol (mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate, ammonium nitrate reduces black smoke residue)
    • 7,5 cm Sprenggranate 34 (used on late Panzer IV and StuG, which supposedly were so much better against infantry according to WoT) explosive filler: 680 grams of amatol
    • 75 mm M48 (75 mm M4 Sherman) explosive filler: about 1.5 pounds (680 grams) of TNT
    • 76 mm M42A1 (late Sherman tanks) explosive filler: 390 grams of TNT or amatol, depending on version
    The one bad thing I've read about Panther HE was a limited amount of shrapnel due to the thicker walls of the shell.

    - Weak side armor: In thickness it was comparable to other medium tanks of the time. However, it could've been stronger than it's actual thickness would suggest, if well made, because of the surface-hardening technique of the armor plate (I forgot what it's called), which can apparently add the equal strength of up to 30mm of additional thickness. We know that late war German armor plate varied in quality, but if this is true, it can be said that the Panther's side armor could've been the equal of around 80 mm thick normal armor- very good for a 1943 medium tank, and quite comparable to the next generation (M24 Pershing, T-44...).

    What are your thoughts? I'm not defending the Panther out of bias, I'm simply interested in having an open discussion about the actual merits of the tank, aside from the things that was a direct result of the war situation.
    Last edited by oldngruff; 22 Jun 18, 11:20.

  • #2
    I think you're thinking of the surface chilling technique used to specially hardened the noses of armor piercing shells. It's a tempering method that toughens the outer layer.

    I agree with you that the Panther gets a bad rap. It was a very credible medium tank and a formidable opponent. Considering the conditions under which it was manufactured, it came out quite well.

    In contrast the American Sherman, manufactured with no shortage of materials and in the perfect safety of America, was a poor design.
    Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
      [FONT=comic sans ms]I think you're thinking of the surface chilling technique used to specially hardened the noses of armor piercing shells. It's a tempering method that toughens the outer layer.
      Chilled casting techniques for armour plate tended to be a German speciality developed originally for warships. In WW1 the technique was attempted for A7V tank armour. It had the advantage over other forms of armour plate of not requiring scarce alloying metals (nickel, chrome, tungsten etc). the sources of which were mainly under Allied control. However it was a difficult technique to apply for relatively thin plate. For thicker plate it has the advantage of producing armour that has a hard exterior but a less brittle backing so I can well believe that it was used for the Panther
      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
        I think you're thinking of the surface chilling technique used to specially hardened the noses of armor piercing shells. It's a tempering method that toughens the outer layer.

        I agree with you that the Panther gets a bad rap. It was a very credible medium tank and a formidable opponent. Considering the conditions under which it was manufactured, it came out quite well.

        In contrast the American Sherman, manufactured with no shortage of materials and in the perfect safety of America, was a poor design.
        I think that depends on what you are measuring. The Panther is a crap design for maintenance. It requires a lot. More than a Sherman, and it's all difficult to do. The Sherman was designed to be maintained in the field by maintenance units and the equipment they were given. An engine or transmission swap out takes maybe a day in for a Sherman. It takes a week or more for a Panther and ties up more maintenance assets to do it.

        The Sherman is streets ahead in reliability too. For the offensive, a Sherman battalion can move hundreds of miles on their tracks and arrive pretty much intact and ready for battle. A Panther battalion would be lucky to scrape up a full company of tanks after trying that.

        As a combat vehicle the Panther was a good design, but it wasn't better enough to give it some overwhelming advantage. Instead, its less obvious shortcomings and lack of numbers meant it was more often than not defeated in combat.

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        • #5
          I think the criticisms of the Panther's armour and HE ammunition are pretty trifling really - as an overall package I think it was a very good concept, although they could possibly have reduced the armour on the front glacis a bit, in order to cut down the weight at the front end of the tank.

          Automotively it was very poor, and this is what counts against it. The problem seems to have been that the mechanical fixes they progressively introduced were undermined by material/build issues, although even then not all the inherent problems were ever fixed. I think the Panther was analogous to the Churchill, in that it was introduced into production far, far too early into its development life, and should have had another 12-18 months in development testing prior to production.
          "Looting would not be tolerated within the Division, unless organised with the knowledge of C.O.'s on a unit basis."
          - 15/19 Hussars War Diary, 18th March 1945

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          • #6
            Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post

            I think that depends on what you are measuring. The Panther is a crap design for maintenance. It requires a lot. More than a Sherman, and it's all difficult to do. The Sherman was designed to be maintained in the field by maintenance units and the equipment they were given. An engine or transmission swap out takes maybe a day in for a Sherman. It takes a week or more for a Panther and ties up more maintenance assets to do it.

            The Sherman is streets ahead in reliability too. For the offensive, a Sherman battalion can move hundreds of miles on their tracks and arrive pretty much intact and ready for battle. A Panther battalion would be lucky to scrape up a full company of tanks after trying that.

            As a combat vehicle the Panther was a good design, but it wasn't better enough to give it some overwhelming advantage. Instead, its less obvious shortcomings and lack of numbers meant it was more often than not defeated in combat.
            Because the Western Allies had tank transporters it was rare in the later war years that Shermans had to trek very far on heir own tracks. If they did unavailability rose sharply. Panthers on the other hand did have to do substantial treks and had poor availability as a result
            Viewed as part of a weapons system the Panther was poor.
            Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
            Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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            • #7
              Originally posted by oldngruff View Post
              It seems like the Panther gets criticised a lot and called a bad tank, but how much of the criticism is actually valid to the design, and not something directly caused by the declining war-situation?

              Here's the typical things I've seen repeated again and again on forums:

              - Awful reliability and mechanical stamina: According to the French postwar report the engine and transmission lifespan was within acceptable limits for a medium tank. We know that some Panther fell short of this though, (especially the engine life) but that was surely due to bad materials, not poor design.
              The Panther suffered from the German design philosophy for tank engines, as they delivered their maximum output at comparatively high revs, requiring transmisisons with many speeds. Basically, they built racecars while others built tractors. So German tank engines were stressed harder. The HL210 and HL230 designs used in the Panther and Tiger also suffered from a very compact design, stressing the engines further. Add to that the realities of war in general and the final years in particular, and you get an unreliable engine.

              The gearbox was OK, but the steering- and brake system also contributed to the Panthers problems. For some reason, the Germans decided to combine the geared steering system - which was quite simple and clever - with a clutch-brake system that incorporated a very powerfull - too powerfull - brake. When that was used, the forces transferred to the final drive was just too much for that weak unit.

              - The final drives, with an average life of 150 km: this was a direct cause by problems with the industry for Germany at the time. It seems like this wasn't really openly discussed before the production of the Panther began, so it wasn't exactly a sober choice.
              We have a thread somewhere discussing the story behind the final brake design. I cannot remember the details, but it was a complete shambles.

              - No periscope for the gunner: A somewhat valid criticism of the design of tank, but then again the Germans never (AFAIK) felt it was necessary for the gunner to have any other vision device besides his gunsight. For example, they added a forward-viewing periscope for the loader in the Tiger I, and Tiger II crews complained that the loader's periscope should be made turnable, but no one seemed to have thought it was necessary for the gunner to have a periscope. More vision devices is always better but it clearly wasn't necessary for a good combat performance.
              Yes, it was a flaw in most German tank designs and one the Panther shared. Target aquisition is much faster, if the gunner has a wide-view periscope at his displosal - in particular if that includes a periscopic sight.

              - Bad HE: in Zaloga's book on the Panther he writes that it had an outstanding AP round, while the HE was mediocre- not bad.
              I agree. The US M48 was by far the best HE round in the 75mm class, but that does not make the Panthers round bad in comparison. Just average.

              - Weak side armor: In thickness it was comparable to other medium tanks of the time. However, it could've been stronger than it's actual thickness would suggest, if well made, because of the surface-hardening technique of the armor plate (I forgot what it's called), which can apparently add the equal strength of up to 30mm of additional thickness. We know that late war German armor plate varied in quality, but if this is true, it can be said that the Panther's side armor could've been the equal of around 80 mm thick normal armor- very good for a 1943 medium tank, and quite comparable to the next generation (M24 Pershing, T-44...).
              The Panthers side armour was not "weak". There was a problem with Soviet anti-tank rifles, but that was solved with Schürzen. The real problem was that the ammunition was stored in the sponsons just behind the side armour as in early Shermans. That meant that a side penetration would like send the tank up in flames in seconds. This isse was rectified in the Sherman, but not in the Panther.

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              • #8
                I'd second that on engines. The US and Soviets tended to use aircraft engines that had been seriously de-rated in power for their tanks. That is, they were using an engine designed for the stresses of say 1000 hp and were getting 500 hp out of it in a tank.

                Most German armor was face hardened using the Krupp process of coating the plate with a layer of lampblack and heating the plate in a vacuum furnace to orange heat. This would cause the carbon (lampblack) to sublimate into the surface of the plate making the first few millimeters extremely hard while leaving the rest of the plate relatively ductile. This is a good way to face harden common low carbon and low alloy steels.
                The Allies went with what are generally termed "triple alloy" steels of extreme toughness without face hardening. This allowed the Allies to use castings for much of their armor on vehicles.

                Face hardened steels generally work a bit better (5 - 10%) than the alloy steels up to about 3" / 75mm in thickness. Beyond that, there is no advantage gained from face hardening and the allow steels start to work a bit better. So, a Panther's side plate at 40mm might be worth 45 or 50mm at most. Of course, there is the size of the round to consider. When the 40mm plate gets hit by a 75 or 76mm round, hardening is not going to do much, if anything, for you. It's coming inside for a visit.

                There is no process with steel that will make a plate that is 40mm thick function like an 80mm plate. You can't harden it sufficiently. You can't get that with alloying.

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                • #9
                  "Being defeated in combat" due to lack of numbers "most of the time" is not accurate. This implies a major loss. More like combat ops restricted to hit and run actions with a range of more ambitious operations not taken as panzer divisions were experienced enough to know what they were capable of and what they weren't.
                  Zhitomir-Berdichev, West of Kiev: 24 Dec 1943-31 Jan 1944
                  Stalin's Favorite: The Combat History of the 2nd Guards Tank Army
                  Barbarossa Derailed I & II
                  Battle of Kalinin October 1941

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                    I'd second that on engines. The US and Soviets tended to use aircraft engines that had been seriously de-rated in power for their tanks. That is, they were using an engine designed for the stresses of say 1000 hp and were getting 500 hp out of it in a tank.

                    Most German armor was face hardened using the Krupp process of coating the plate with a layer of lampblack and heating the plate in a vacuum furnace to orange heat. This would cause the carbon (lampblack) to sublimate into the surface of the plate making the first few millimeters extremely hard while leaving the rest of the plate relatively ductile. This is a good way to face harden common low carbon and low alloy steels.
                    The Allies went with what are generally termed "triple alloy" steels of extreme toughness without face hardening. This allowed the Allies to use castings for much of their armor on vehicles.

                    Face hardened steels generally work a bit better (5 - 10%) than the alloy steels up to about 3" / 75mm in thickness. Beyond that, there is no advantage gained from face hardening and the allow steels start to work a bit better. So, a Panther's side plate at 40mm might be worth 45 or 50mm at most. Of course, there is the size of the round to consider. When the 40mm plate gets hit by a 75 or 76mm round, hardening is not going to do much, if anything, for you. It's coming inside for a visit.

                    There is no process with steel that will make a plate that is 40mm thick function like an 80mm plate. You can't harden it sufficiently. You can't get that with alloying.
                    As far as I'm aware the Germans only used face hardened armour (FHA) on the front hull plates of the Panzer III and IV, and this was specifically because FHA is able to shatter AP solid shot - i.e. it was introduced to defeat the standard British 2 pounder AP round (which it did) and was also useful against the standard Soviet 45mm AP solid shot.

                    Most of the side armour of the Panzer III and IV was rolled homogenous armour (RHA), although I think some of the upper hull superstructure side armour was FHA.

                    However, face hardened armour is actually LESS effective against the APCBC rounds that the Allies were using from mid-1943 onwards, so if the Panther's side armour was FHA this would have been a serious error on the Germans' part. I would suspect that it was actually RHA though.
                    "Looting would not be tolerated within the Division, unless organised with the knowledge of C.O.'s on a unit basis."
                    - 15/19 Hussars War Diary, 18th March 1945

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                    • #11
                      Probably. Face hardening takes days to do. The process could take start to finish a week or more of time. It's also energy expensive keeping a furnace going that long and maintaining the vacuum. Somewhere I have a bunch of tables from Aberdeen and Dahlgren on their testing of various types of armor and the results of penetration. FHA is a better choice to about 3" (75mm) thickness that homogeneous. There is an offset there for overmatch by the size of the round striking it. Above 3" it really makes no difference and homogeneous is equal or better.

                      Toughness is a different issue and that has to do with what you alloy the steel with. The Allies had access to adequate supplies of vanadium and molybdenum, the Germans didn't. Those two with small amounts of chromium make for very tough "triple alloy" armor. Case hardening this sort of steel produces gears and other high wear, high strength components. That too is a problem for the Germans. Their gears aren't of the same quality due to lack of proper alloy agents as the war goes on.

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                      • #12
                        I've long suspected the lack of alloying metals was one of the major reasons for the comparative weakness of the Maybach engines - particularly in respect to pistons and crankshafts.
                        "Looting would not be tolerated within the Division, unless organised with the knowledge of C.O.'s on a unit basis."
                        - 15/19 Hussars War Diary, 18th March 1945

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Don Juan View Post
                          I've long suspected the lack of alloying metals was one of the major reasons for the comparative weakness of the Maybach engines - particularly in respect to pistons and crankshafts.
                          Thinking back to my days as a graduate apprentice at Rolls Royce and the last of the Merlins and Griffons I'd say more likely with the crankshaft than the pistons but I've always said that the lack of chrome, nickel, tungsten etc was a major German weakness in both World Wars.
                          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Don Juan View Post
                            I've long suspected the lack of alloying metals was one of the major reasons for the comparative weakness of the Maybach engines - particularly in respect to pistons and crankshafts.
                            Part of the problem, and a good part, was Maybach tried to make the engines as light as possible. A minimum casting. They sleeved the cylinders right off. Most other manufacturers elsewhere were simply machining the casting and running a hone through the cylinders. Sleeving was for rebuilds where the walls were now too thin to take the compression / pressure of the engine.

                            Here is engineering that wasn't necessary. Saving say 100 or 200 lbs on the engine's weight by careful engineering didn't buy you anything. Sure, the result was "elegant" but it's like trying to engineer the engine to go in a race car but putting it in a dump truck. A bit more weight and bulk would have made little or no difference in a tank installation but would have improved the reliability of the engine in service.

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                            • #15
                              Coming out June of next year. May be of interest to some readers of this thread.
                              Foreign Panthers: The Panzer V in British, Soviet, French and other service 1944-56: Simon Dunstan: 9781472831811: Books - Amazon.ca

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